Do We Need to Believe in the Christian God to Have a Meaningful Life?

jesus all about life

Do we need to believe in the Christian (Evangelical) God for our lives to have meaning? Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina thinks so. In a post titled Man’s Significance, Dixon stated:

Why does man consider himself such a “big screaming deal”? Is there no basis for our thinking we are unique in the universe, that there is something about man that shouts “You have value! You have worth!”

Evolutionary theory essentially argues that man makes up his own significance. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image and likeness of GOD — and we, therefore, have meaning.

How sad to miss that fundamental truth of our creation, and to simply sit back in despair and entertain ourselves to death with our machines!

Listen carefully to what Dixon is saying: Those who deny that meaning is derived from belief in God, live lives of despair, spending their brief sojourn on this earth entertaining themselves. Dixon, an Evangelical, shows that he is clueless about how secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Christians find meaning and purpose. One can reject a created by God anthropocentric view of life and still find great satisfaction in living life to its fullest. In fact, it is unbelievers who often value and cherish life the most because they only get one opportunity to walk the path of life. If you have taken the time to read my ABOUT page, you likely read my answer to the question If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?  Here is what I said:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Another explanation of how non-believers view life can be found in the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That Evangelicals can’t wrap their minds around this fact is their problem, not ours. Perhaps Evangelicals are unable to comprehend a meaningful, purposeful life without God is because life before death is viewed — in theory — as little more than:

I say in theory because — as observers of Evangelicalism know — God’s chosen ones love THIS life as much as atheists do. Christians profess to be ready to go home (Heaven), but few of them are lining up to board the next bus to the pearly gates. Blissful, pain-free eternal life might await Christians once they cross to the other side, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to experience the pleasures of Club Heaven®.  Simply put, Evangelicals say one thing and do another.

life all about jesusBelievers and unbelievers should alike admit that this life matters, and how each of us finds meaning and purpose is no one’s business but ours. My wife’s parents are 80 years old. Their world revolves around Jesus, the Bible, and their church — the Newark Baptist Temple. Nine months ago, Polly’s father had his hip replaced. The surgery proved to be a disaster and he is now in a nursing home. My in-laws were forced to sell their home — a place they have lived for 38 years. Knowing that they had to move, Polly suggested to her Mom that they move near our home so we could take care of them (We live 3 hours Northwest of their home in Newark, Ohio). Polly’s Mom replied, I can’t. My church is here. I have known Polly Shope Gerencser for 40 years and I have NEVER seen her so devastated as she was by her Mom’s words.

Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It is Worth it All)  Polly is her parents’ only living child. Both Polly and I thought that they would not only want to be closer to their daughter (we see them 5-6 times a year), but also near our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Polly’s Mom said I can’t. My Church is here, Polly heard, My Church is more important than you! My “real” family is my church.

And Polly’s parents have the right to choose what matters most to them. When Polly and I returned to rural NW Ohio, we did so because we made a conscious choice to be near our children and grandchildren — all of whom live less than 20 minutes from our home. Family matters to us. For me personally, I know that chronic illness and pain have likely shortened my life expectancy. Knowing this, I want to spend as much time as I can going to races with my sons, watching my grandchildren’s school and sporting events, and doing all I can to leave those I love with a lasting memory of a husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest. Some days, all I can do is sit quietly by and watch my grandchildren play. Other days, infused with a false sense of energy and vitality, I play hard, laugh, argue and debate, and remind my children that I am still the intellectual king of the hill (I can hear them snickering). Regardless of how I feel, it is my family that gives my life meaning and purpose. It saddens me that my in-laws have chosen a contrived family — one that will dump them if they ever fail to bow in obeisance to Jesus — over a flesh-and-blood family that loves them. It is, however, their choice, so I must live with it. Their decision is yet another reminder of the fact that Christians often forsake the earthly for what they think will improve their room size in God’s mansion in the sky.

Now, let me get back to aimlessly living a life of despair.

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11 Comments

  1. Larry Dixon

    Bruce:

    I want to thank you for reading my blog. Although we are miles apart (both geographically and philosophically), I am trying to really hear what you are saying and think through the points you make.

    I guess the problem with a blog like mine is that my short comments (for example, on the Calvin & Hobbes’ cartoon) can be misunderstood. Here’s some of what I believe and don’t believe:

    1. I don’t believe that non-Christians live meaningless lives. Made in the image of God, each person has value and worth and can enjoy the good things which God provides (I Tim. 6).

    2. The sad truth is that (as you know from your years as a pastor) man can focus his attention on creation rather than on the Creator. We can appreciate the good gifts God gives, but we can ignore Him.

    3. IF we were made by an infinite, personal God, One who loves us enough to deal with our “sin” issue, then living life for Him makes perfect sense. And “living life for Him” doesn’t mean we treat other humans with anything other than love and compassion.

    4. Bruce, I have a number of “non-Christian” friends who live meaningful lives, so I am not clueless about them or their families. But to leave out God, if He is real, is not only sad, but cosmic rebellion. My friends are great people, but like myself before I trusted Jesus, are presently under God’s wrath and need the Savior.

    5. I try not to minimize life in this world, longing for heaven. God made this world. We are earthlings, for heaven’s sake, as Mike Witmer says in his excellent book Becoming Worldly Saints. I know you’ve read Lewis. Two quotes come to my mind where he says, “If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.” And — “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

    By the way, I am no longer a professor at CIU. A recent down-sizing took place and I lost my teaching position of 19 years.

    I am so sorry to hear of your losses — your in-laws choosing not to move closer to you and your sister-in-law’s tragic death. As a humanist, would you not agree that the “meaning” you find in life is entirely subjective?

    Blessings.
    Larry

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      “But to leave out God, if He is real, is not only sad, but cosmic rebellion.”

      Question: if God exists but I am utterly unaware of Him, how is that “rebellion” in any meaningful sense, cosmic or otherwise?

      And why would that provoke wrath as a reaction? I’d expect an all-knowing deity to regard such a failure of perception with perfect understanding.

      Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I think virtually every experience in life is subjective. It is theists, especially Evangelicals, who think their experiences are “different.” Evangelicals think of themselves as special — saved, born again, redeemed, child of God, elect — and this sense of specialness leads them to conclude that they are somehow different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. These apples in the eye of God — armed with a book they errantly believe is inspired,infallible, and inerrant — think that their experiences are not tainted with subjectivity. This foolish (and silly) notion is easily disproved by observing how Evangelicals live. Not what they say, but how they live.

      I will be sixty years old on my next birthday. I’ve watched countless Evangelicals of every theological persuasion live the Christian life. For all their talk about objective morality, meaning, and purpose, these followers of Jesus are no different from atheists, secularists, and every other group they demonize. Put 100 Evangelicals in a room and you’ll be 110 opinions on every issue. Even when it comes to the Bible…every sect, preacher, and parishioner has their own interpretation. Yet, they dare to scold atheists about their subjective morality and view of life. Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, communion, and baptism.

      I am not saying that we cannot come to some sort of common agreement about those things that promote the greater good. We can, but even here subjectivity reigns. Behaviors that were once considered “wrong” are now okay. I am sure you view this as “sin.” I, on the other hand, see it as progress. What is acceptable and what is not changes with the times. This has ALWAYS been the case. Think of all the things Evangelical preachers once called sin. Now, those very “sins”are okay. I came of age in the late 60s and 70s. Preachers railed against sins such as drums, rock music, guitars, long hair on men, short skirts, alcohol drinking, etc….yet these very “sins”are now practiced by preachers and parishioners alike. So much for objective morality.

      I live my life according to a basic code of conduct: be kind, love others, do what I can to help others, and don’t be an asshole. This seems to work well for me.

      Reply
    3. J.D. Matthews

      “But to leave out God, if He is real, is not only sad, but cosmic rebellion. My friends are great people, but like myself before I trusted Jesus, are presently under God’s wrath and need the Savior.”

      …which makes God a big cosmic asshole (if he’s real, of course.)

      Reply
  2. Kingasaurus

    —- As a humanist, would you not agree that the “meaning” you find in life is entirely subjective?—-

    What’s the alternative? The religious only seem to consider “meaning” and “purpose” to be “real” if it’s dictated by the boss. Does the slave have no meaning or purpose until the slavemaster decides to tell him what it is?

    Even worse is that the slavemaster is completely invisible, people claim to only talk with him inside their heads, not everyone agrees that he’s really there, and not everyone who agrees that something supernatural exists is getting the same message. That’s some way to run a railroad.

    Claiming you have “objective” meaning and actually having it aren’t the same thing. A god’s wishes and opinions aren’t “objective”, they’re just the subjective views of a “person” with a”mind” who is more powerful than you are.

    Reply
  3. Zoe

    Larry: 4.” Bruce, I have a number of “non-Christian” friends who live meaningful lives, so I am not clueless about them or their families. But to leave out God, if He is real, is not only sad, but cosmic rebellion. My friends are great people, but like myself before I trusted Jesus, are presently under God’s wrath and need the Savior.”

    Zoe: How is your “cosmic rebellion” any different than the “cosmic rebellion” of all the other religions and belief systems that include a “cosmic rebellion” as part of their beliefs?

    Every devout person who believes there is in fact a cosmic rebellion do so according to the tenants of their faith.

    If your God is not real or the wrong God (and of course for you it isn’t because you’ve got the one true cosmic belief system) than you have spent your life in the imaginations of those who came before you. Where’d they get their imaginations/truths from? Those before them.

    You’re entire belief system is in fact cosmic. So are those of many others who are non-Christian. You’re entire hope is for another world. You see the entire world under God’s cosmic wrath. Those are hellish imaginations that I can have no faith in. I can’t have faith in your imaginations, nor in those imaginations of the shoulders upon which you stand; those who came before you.

    Reply
  4. Geoff

    To quote Tim Minchin from one of Bruce’s earlier posts

    “Arts degrees are awesome. They help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.”

    And

    “I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

    You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

    There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.”

    Reply
  5. Brian

    “but like myself before I trusted Jesus, are presently under God’s wrath and need the Savior.”

    Humanity-hating crap that you even press on children to make them vomit their natural innocence and become less than free-to-be.
    You were not really so bad before trusting Jesus, were you… but now that you do, you say things like this…

    Reply
  6. Brian

    Bruce and Polly, I am sorry to hear that your parents feel unable to move closer to you and receive some extra help as health grows more challenging. I don’t understand their choice but I do understand how embracing the supernatural and church overtakes us in life and becomes the one and only thing that matters above all else. This is one of the most pernicious parts of embracing the supernatural: The natural must play second fiddle. But that is at it is and we love our parents with all our hearts because that is human… And so it is that we continue to love them as they move away from us.
    I think you, both you and Polly, Bruce, are very giving, very supportive human beings. I don’t know how you have managed to sustain that supportive way over the years but it is clear to me that you are very special people. Thank-you for sharing the way you do and for keepin on keepin on! Larry Dixon feels he is building Creation and not tearing it down by being a believer. I feel that he is indeed tearing down the world by speaking ill of humankind and saying the supernatural must be worshipped. I would ask him not to share his hateful ideas with children who live in innocence and do not require punishment or punishment paradigms. I would ask him to just let them be. But Larry has given away his freedom to choose. The master of the supernatural demands his compliance. He must sacrifice the innocence of children if that is the way of the supernatural. God’s wrath, after all…

    Reply
  7. JR

    If God wanted us to worship him rather than creation then why did he make creation more real to us than he is?

    It is like a mother leaving a toddler in a room with lots of tvs all turned on and toys everywhere, watching the baby on a monitor and then complaining that the baby is being ‘distracted’ from interacting with her.

    Reply
    1. Melody

      Great analogy! I’ll have to remember that one 🙂

      Reply

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